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Spotting the unhealthy in menus

It’s probably no secret that one of our favourite national pastime is eating! Enter any shopping mall and you will find an array of restaurants offering cuisines worldwide. Eating healthy doesn’t mean to forgo eating at restaurants. By spotting the unhealthy in menus, you can make healthier meal decisions and enjoy a delicious, guilt-free meal.


Before you head into a restaurant, consider locating a restaurant that serves healthier choices by heading to Health Promotion Board (HPB)’s Healthier Dining Programme website. Restaurants which are part of the program have menus that tag healthier dishes with the Healthier Choice logo.


Some useful tips to keep in mind when browsing a menu:


1) Appetisers, sides and beverages


Appetisers and sides may seem pretty harmless as they are in small portions but beware! Deep fried finger food like fries and wedges are not only high in calories but more importantly, unhealthy saturated ​fat, so it is best to avoid them.


Often times, restaurants serve sweetened and alcoholic beverages, which offer little or no nutritive value at all, effectively making them “empty calories”. Consider opting for plain water instead. Tea (e.g. at Chinese restaurants) is also a good option. Of course, if you can’t resist those enticing drinks, try to limit your intake to not more than one or two drinks a day.


2) Titles and descriptions


Methods of cooking

Menus usually have a description of the dish below the dish name. Items which are either titled or contain a description of the following words should be avoided:

  • Crispy

  • Fried

  • Deep-fried

  • Battered

  • Crunchy

  • Crusted

  • Golden

  • Sizzling

  • Tempura

However, it may not be as apparent when a dish has no descriptor or has a foreign language / exotic name. Ask the restaurant staff if you are in doubt to gain a better understanding of the dish’s preparation methods. Choose dishes with healthier cooking methods, keywords being:

  • Roasted

  • Baked

  • Braised

  • Poached

  • Grilled

  • Steamed

  • Sautéed

Hidden sugars

Desserts may be self-explanatory but savoury dishes can contain a large amount of sugar. Dishes with sauces like teriyaki sauce, barbecue sauce and honey sauce are just some examples.


3) Add ons


When ordering certain dishes such as salads, you may be given a choice to add on ingredients. For instance, dressings: Thousand island, ranch dressing, balsamic dressing, olive oil, honey mustard, etc. Opt for “lighter dressings” such as balsamic dressing instead of rich creamy sauces. If you would like to order richer dressings, request for it to be served on the side, so you can limit the amount consumed.


Apart from salads, pastas are another dish which typically allow you to add on ingredients ranging from bacon to mushrooms. If you would like, consider the veggie add ons. They add nutritive value and texture to your meal.


Add ons are attractive in menus but they may cause you to exceed your calorie intake easily.

4) Desserts


End things on a sweet note. Choose a fruit platter to share with your meal companions, which is refreshing and naturally sweet. Consider sharing more decadent desserts which contain descriptors like chocolate and creamy, so you can enjoy a smaller portion of it.


Below is summary of keywords to look out for

Typical Western restaurant favourites:

Typical Chinese restaurant favourites:



References

  • Elsenbrook, R., 2014. Decoding the restaurant menu: Words to avoid for healthful eating [online]. CNN. Available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2014/11/05/health/healthy-restaurant-choices/index.html [Accessed 30 Nov. 2017].

  • HealthHub, 2015. Restaurant Guide to Healthier Eating [online]. Available at: https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/167/restaurant_guide_healthier_eating [Accessed 30 Nov. 2017].

  • Kessler, D., 2010. The end of overeating. Camberwell, Vic.: Penguin.

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